The State of the Church, Part 19

Ezekiel 14 starts off with the elders of Israel coming to Ezekiel. We can imagine quite easily what the easy thing was for him to have done. He could have given them a message that was soothing to them and have tickled their ears. However, instead of listening to what was surely something that came up in his heart, he listened to the word of the Lord. There is a massively important lesson in this for all ministers and leaders in the professing Church. When important people or people with power come to us, we are to speak the word of the Lord rather than what people want to hear. We can follow the trends and encouragements of the world and of the religious world to be gracious and winsome, yet the word of the Lord is quite the opposite of those things most of the time. We can preach and teach most anything today and there will be a group that will like what is said until the word of God begins to strike at the idols of their love. This was true of the Pharisees in the days of Jesus and it is true in our own day now. People will hear almost anything until you begin to get at the idols of their hearts.

The word of the Lord spoke to Ezekiel and told him what was going on in the hearts of the elders of Israel. These leaders were perhaps even blind to their sin, as indeed many are today, but that is exactly why they needed a prophet to declare it to them. Until the ministers in our day have the guts (spiritual fortitude, true love to God and men, honesty) to stand up and begin to search the hearts of the people and declare the word of God in its fullness, the wrath of God will continue in our day. Until the ministers of our day become more concerned with the glory of God and the true spiritual welfare of people rather than their own positions of influence and finances, the wrath of God will continue in our day. Until ministers are more concerned with the truth of the word of God as it shines with the glory of God rather than the idolatrous comfort of sinners against God, the wrath of God will continue in our day. Until ministers are more concerned to penetrate the hearts of sinners instead of tickle their ears with gracious and winsome words, sin will reign in the hearts of sinners and the wrath of God will continue in our day.

We can see from Ezekiel 14:1-4 that the real problem with the elders of Israel was idolatry in their hearts. The elders were to be leaders of the people in spiritual and political things. The nation had priests as well, but they were corrupt and looked after their own welfare and did not teach the truth either. The people were left in darkness because no one proclaimed the word of God to them and they remained in their sins. Instead of nice preaching, even if it is orthodox and in perfect accordance with the 1689 Baptist Confession or the Westminster Confession, we must have preaching that pierces hearts and exposes idols. God does not and will not dwell with people who have idols in their hearts. Doctrinal preaching apart from searching and spiritual application to the soul does nothing but build people up in their pride and idolatry of self because knowledge makes arrogant (I Cor 8:1-2). If all we do is give people biblical knowledge without piercing application, we have not only disobeyed God in preaching to the people what is good we have actually contributed to that which God hates in them the most.

Let us think through this some more. If all we do is teach orthodoxy, what have we done? Is Christianity just something that is learned in the head? Is Christianity something that can be memorized? Is Christianity complete if we know our confessions and have the Bible memorized? No, all of those things apart from a changed heart lead to more pride and more idolatry. Could it be true that in conservative churches the ministers have idolatrous hearts in wanting to please the people and build large churches? With that goal they preach nice sermons that are orthodox on how to live better and all they are doing is building the pride in the hearts of the people along with more idolatry? Could it be that even when conservative ministers go to conferences to hear encouraging words, all that really goes on is that they are encouraged in their idolatries? Could it be that when we hear that what we need to do is be more gracious and winsome that the real thing behind that is that we are being encouraged to be nice and not preach the truth of God in a way that pierces to the hearts? Could it be that we have become so gracious in our presentations that people nod their heads to the orthodoxy while their souls nod to sleep in their idolatry?

The ministry in the modern day (all of us) must wake up to the fact that we have idols in our own hearts as well. The people in the pews and chairs have idols in their hearts too. Until we begin to get at the idols in our own hearts and the idols in the hearts of the congregation, we have nothing to say to the world without hypocrisy on our part. The ministry of the modern day must begin to have some prophetic part to it as well. We can no longer just be nice and teach what is historically true, we have to preach to the hearts of the people and expose their virulent idols and that their opposition to having those exposed is enmity toward God. Ministers need to go to conferences where their own sin is exposed and the rottenness of their own hearts is brought to the surface. Ministers are good at saying about the congregations of other ministers that “The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their own authority; And My people love it so!” (Jeremiah 5:31). But do our own people love to hear us prophesy falsely when we don’t search their hearts with the word of God? Do we love it so when we go to conferences and hear nothing but pleasing and orthodox things? Will we be honest and say that our own sermons leave the hearts of people cold toward the real God because they leave them in love with their idols and they think that their idols are blessings from God? Will we be honest with our own hearts and know that we are quite comfortable with our religious idols of esteem and the kind words of others?

Let us also remember that the flattering tongues of others work ruin in our own souls while our flattering tongues work ruin in the souls of others. It is so hard to the idols of our hearts to speak the truth to other ministers and to the souls of people. We want them to like us and esteem us. So in order to maintain the idol of self in our hearts we simply say good and gracious things and then go off in the glow of being liked and esteemed. Idolatry was a problem with the priests, prophets, and elders in Israel. What fools we are to think we are different than they were. The human heart is the same factory of idols now as it was then. The human heart is as opposed to God now as it was then. The human heart is as full of self and self-love now as it was then. We cannot pretend to be faithful to the living God and His word until we turn from this mass of idolatry that has swept and is sweeping through religious America and the world in the guise of church growth and graciousness to being willing to suffer and die for the truth of God. We have turned from God and the faithful proclamation of His word as the way to build churches in truth to man-centered methods that allow us to be gracious and live in ease. That is idolatry.

Holy Scripture describes with explicit language a main part of the ministry: “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:28-31). How can we claim to value the blood of Christ when we will not shepherd the church of God which was bought with that blood? In fact, the text tells us that it is the blood of God that bought the church. The idolatry that reigns in the hearts of ministers and leaders that will not shepherd the church of God in such a way to defend it from savage wolves cannot be measured according to human categories. Indeed those savage wolves are in sheep’s clothing and are very gracious and winsome, but in fact they are teaching things about God and the Bible that will cause spiritual destruction to the sheep of God in the way that the teeth of wolves cause physical destruction as they tear the flesh of lambs.

The Church of the living God that has been bought by His blood is not something that can be shepherded by men with idols in their hearts. If they do not truly love His glory, they will not truly love the sheep of His glory. If they believe that God is focused on them and wants what is best for them by their definition and idols, they will not watch over the sheep for the sake of the glory of God in truth. We must always remember that the Church is spiritual and there can be terrible destruction in spiritual things while all has the appearance of calm and good on the outside. When ministers and leaders have idols in their hearts, they are blinded by those idols to spiritual realities and see nothing but what is conducive to their idols. While they gaze on their idols in spiritual sleep or death the sheep are torn to pieces. This is the judgment of God and we must understand it to some degree.

Since Charles Finney the professing Church has been plagued by innovation in an effort to find numerical results. The professing Church in America is operating under many innovations rather than the word of God. There are many new innovations that are coming out and many more soon to come. It is true that many ministers and leaders will swallow those things whole in the name of God that fit with the idols of their hearts, but we must remember that Scripture tells us that people will kill those who love Christ in the name of God also. We live in perilous times while ministers have idols in their hearts and the sheep are being torn to shreds by gracious acting wolves that are nice and winsome and yet have spiritual death and destruction in their teeth. It is time for ministers and leaders to cry out to God for illumination of their own idols and for Him to grant us repentance. If not, we will continue our slide into the pit while thinking that God is pleased with us. We have already become like the world in the church and there is no need for the world to become like us. We follow their ideas of niceness, graciousness, and of how to love in a way that leaves sinners at ease. In doing so it leaves our own idols comfortable, intact, erect, and loved.

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